California’s Dropout Crisis

A new report put out by a group of law enforcement officials in Los Angeles County, titled “School or the Streets: Crime and California’s Dropout Crisis,” finds a direct correlation between high school dropout rates and rates of violent crime. No surprise there, I suppose, but surely it’s important to collect the data and examine the implications. A 10 percent increase in the graduation rate in California, the study finds, would prevent 500 homicides and more than 20,000 aggravated assaults each year; LA County alone could see an annual drop of 214 homicides and 7,241 aggravated assaults.

“The real problem isn’t deciding whether dropout rates are linked to crime,” the LA Times reports. “The problem is figuring out how to keep students in school.” The report pairs some common-sense solutions with its common-sense analysis, with recommendations to improve, among other things, the quality of mentoring, teaching, preschool and monitoring of at-risk students.

The catch, of course, is that these solutions are only as good as state funding will allow. The Governator has just proposed a 10 percent budget cut, pledging to spread the cuts across many departments so that none will feel a disproportionately sharp pinch. But as the Modesto Bee points out, “Education, health and welfare programs command nearly two-thirds of the state’s $102 billion general fund.” Which means that young and needy people will be the hardest hit.

Kevin Gordon, a consultant on education budget issues, said across-the-board cuts mean fewer textbooks, canceled field trips and no school bus service.

“Given that a majority of our expenditures are on people, which are set in contracts, the only place you can go is to all those nonstaff things that directly relate to kids,” Gordon said. “Every school bus in the state grinds to a halt.”

Gordon said the administration has floated a less drastic option to make midyear spending reductions. Currently, he said, slower-than-anticipated revenue growth allows the state to reduce school funding by $1.4 billion without suspending the constitution.

The danger of that, however, is that school districts have established their budgets and are counting on that money.

“School districts would definitely be harmed trying to cut back right in the middle of the year,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association.

If it’s so clearly understood that dropout rates are connected to violent crime, as this new reports suggests it is, then it naturally follows that investment in schools is also an investment in public safety. Conversely, it seems fair to predict that the proposed funding cuts for education would raise dropout rates, which would in turn would raise the rate of violent crime.

So, what’ll it be, California?

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